Where There's Barking, There Are Dogs

by Alicia Olivo ’20

Alicia Olivo 3 dog.jpg

Last October, I was lying in my bed, pretending I was still asleep while scrolling through my Twitter feed. I heard knocking at the front door, and then my mother answering the door. Although it was ten in the morning and the sun was radiating heat through my window, leaving me sweating, I closed my eyes and pretended to be comfortably asleep. My mother entered the room. Mamá looked annoyed, and then she told me why: “The neighbor came by and told us to bring the dogs inside. They’re barking too much, according to them.”

Ah, yes, my neighbors. Two people who I knew from high school. One of them was a few years older than me, and I had never really interacted with him. The other one was a girl who I had taken a few classes with, occasionally interacting with her when she was hanging around our mutual friends. They’re both the kind of people who loved partaking in the fetishization of Japanese people and culture. You know, the kind of people who were bullied in high school, but you always thought in the back of your head that they kind of deserved it. In high school, I really felt like losing it whenever she would call someone “senpai” unironically. And now they were married to each other, renting the house next to mine, and threatening to call animal control on my dogs for being dogs.

A ver, acompáñame a escuchar esta triste historia. I wasn’t supposed to be home last semester. I wasn’t supposed to take a semester off from school, never ever. Whenever I would bring up taking a leave of absence to my advisor, she wouldn’t even hear me out: “You’re getting out of here on time if it kills me.” (Well, I’m not. And she’s still alive. So I guess everything turned out fine in the end, anyway.) My 2018 was supposed to look like this: take kickass classes in the spring, direct a show and make a positive space for people of color on campus, travel to Ireland, intern in L.A., come back to school, be Upstage president, challenge racism on campus, walk across that stage at the end of the year knowing I would change Wellesley for generations to come—

You get the point.

Spring 2018 was kind of a mess. I made the biggest accomplishment of my life so far—directing Real Women Have Curves—and also fucked up, big time. I ended up not finishing any of my classes spring semester, despite my best efforts. Maybe I shouldn’t have directed that semester, but if I’m being completely honest, it was the only thing that was keeping me alive. The summer was great, though not without its low points. I think about what happened that summer a lot, regretting my actions and wishing I didn’t have to remember what I dealt with. Learning that your community can be just as harmful and hateful as your oppressors is a lesson that needs be learned, but still fucking sucks, you know?

From 2017 to the beginning of this year, I had a finsta. During the triumphant return of Remix in early September of last year, I was tipsy and waiting in line to get into Alumnae Hall. I think there was a DJ set going on, I’m not sure. I was tipsy and almost immediately abandoned by the friend who had come with me to the event. I opened up my drafts on Instagram and posted, “I’m going on leave.” Something along those lines. I deleted my finsta in January of this year since it was essentially a two-year-long documentation of depression, anxiety, OCD, and suicidal thoughts, plus the occasional unfunny meme. All I could think about was being back home, laying under warm covers on the creaky bed in my old room, eating my mother’s warm soup that she makes maybe like five times a year and that I missed every time she made it because I was at school, vaguely miserable and overwhelmingly busy.

There are a lot of things from the past two years— the height of my depression—that I can’t remember anymore. Maybe it’s for the best. Trying to remember what happened last year is so frustrating. There are these blanks in my memories of what I talked about, who I was friends with, what good times I had. I might be getting over my depression, but the effects might be on the permanent side. Lord knows how I tried to remember while I was home, thousands of miles away from some of my closest friends.

My loved ones and mentors have always taught me to be strong and unchanging in the face of adversity. What if I don’t want to be strong anymore? Can’t I just be human for once? I was so scared when I started telling people I was going on leave. Half of them didn’t even think I was being serious, including my advisors. One of them said that they never thought things could’ve been this bad. The funny part is that my academic dean had been pushing me to take a semester off for years, and I was only acting on it then because I genuinely felt like I wouldn’t kill myself if I didn’t have access to a therapist and/or psychiatrist. (My health insurance was suspended while I was on leave, so I couldn’t have gone seen someone, anyway.)

Being home wasn’t bad. If anything, it was healing, which is weird to say once you’re back in the city that made you feel like you wanted to die in the first place. Not doing much often leads to reflection, as little as I wanted that to happen. Leaving home was never just about my weird neighbors, or the fights I had with my family, but it was the lingering sadness I carry about myself even when I’m deeply happy with my life. I was foolish to think that moving from Texas to Massachusetts would change that. And I was even more foolish to have been lying to myself about this for so long. Wellesley has given me much, but most things are neither purely good nor bad, and that’s something I have spent a long time learning for myself.

My leave of absence wasn’t all perfect. Sometimes I felt like a financial burden on my family, especially since I was unable to snag even a part-time job. My parents would be annoyed by my sedentary lifestyle (but I did join the local gym for two months, so there’s that). It was nice, however, to be around people who wanted you to be alive above all else for a change. No expectations of greatness, or even mediocrity. It’s okay to be yourself rather than be defined by whatever accomplishments you think are important. At the end of the day, being alive even one day past age twenty is an accomplishment for me.

Maybe 2018 wasn’t the year I got shit done, but maybe it ended up being the year I finally got over myself. This doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the same things that I used to; I just can’t be bothered to kill myself over them anymore. I feel happier. Lighter. Giddy, even. It’s kind of ridiculous, but I’ll take it.

My neighbor, the girl who has her name on Facebook in Japanese because she’s cool and quirky and not at all racist, called animal control twice last fall, right after my father and I had gone over to their house to reach a compromise for both families. We had agreed to only let the dogs outside after ten in the morning, even though the hours dogs are allowed to be outside and making noise run from six in the morning to ten at night. She still called them anyway. My family left one of the dogs in Mexico last month. My sister cried a lot, and I cried over the phone, too. Everyone thinks it’s for the best. I hope my dog is happier there, and I hope my neighbors can finally get over themselves, too.

A lot of the time, I’m not quite sure what I’m saying, what I’m doing, what I’m writing, where I’m going. I think I’ve done a great job of covering that up all the time, but acting is exhausting. Don’t let yourself act for too long. You’ve got to live as yourself sometimes.